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Motrin Mom Video Mishap

A few days ago the makers of pain-reliever Motrin (Johnson & Johnson) launched a commercial campaign that annoyed and outraged mothers around the world.

"That couldn’t have been written by a mother," noted my sister, Jennifer. "The speak about how carrying your baby around is in fashion, but it’s certainly not a passing fad nor a fashion statement – you need to carry your child… and the car seat… and the stroller."

Complaints about the ad were flooding through social networks like Twitter this weekend. Jennifer added, "some of the comments I read online said that ‘mommy bloggers’ were taking things too seriously. But, um, aren’t ‘mommies’ the target audience for this ad?"

In a demonstration of the growing power of social media, on Monday the company issued an apology and withdrew an ad that was meant to be a light-hearted look at ‘baby wearing.’ …Instead, the online video offended a large majority of moms. They not only weren’t laughing, they were making their views known in an online storm that blasted through the blogosphere and the micro-blogging website Twitter, spiking traffic and spreading bad news about the brand. [Vancouver Sun]

I was asked by the Sun for my thoughts on Motrin’s use of social media for this campaign.

"The first mistake was the content of the Motrin ad. And
then they didn’t follow up and see the online reaction. It is the
second biggest topic on Twitter after Christmas." The conversations varied from vitriolic to very funny. [Vancouver Sun]

The NY Times noted that within 48 hours people were taking matters into their own hands.

By Sunday afternoon a few bloggers and tweeters had
gotten the ad agency that created the ad on the phone, to find they
didn’t know a lot about Twitter and didn’t seem to have a clue that
there was so much anger piling up online. [NY Times]

However, Sean Moffitt with Buzz Canuck reminds us all that this was just an ad, which has actually since been retracted with an apology:

"Unlike previous social media infernos, Motrin neither
lied (Sony), deceived about their identity (Wal-Mart),
endangered/inconvenienced a city (Aqua Teen Hunger Force) or provided
dubious insider tips (Whole Foods). It was simply an ad. As ads go, it
was more intriguing than most…perhaps with the same ad executed poorly,
we might have never noticed it."

True, a lot more harm could have been done, and because of this outcry (because apparently mothers cry all the time) the ad was pulled. Case closed… or is it?

It’s an example of how quickly word travels. The ad can be launched,
up on YouTube, and around the world 10 times before you take another
sip of your coffee or in this case, before the end of the weekend.

Now all but the bravest marketers are going to worry
about this kind of outcry and yet another layer of political
correctness will creep in. [Buzz Canuck]

I don’t think this should scare people off, I just think there’s a
bigger conversation out there that companies need to be a part of.

"One bright spot is that we have learned through this
process – in particular, the importance of paying close attention to
the conversations that are taking place online. It has also brought
home the importance of taking a broader look at what we say and how it
may be interpreted." [Johnson & Johnson Blog]

Ways to fix this? Get some of those ‘mommy bloggers’ to submit ideas
for an ad, or send them some Motrin and have them create their own
YouTube videos about how it effectively helped them.

The simplest way for now is to sign up for a Twitter account and
check things out for yourself or at least become familiar with the
social media tools you are using (you don’t even need an account to
check out trending topics either). Being social and having discussions is what social media is all about, as the parody video (above) suggests.


  1. James
    James November 20, 2008

    And if Motrin wants to work with their customers to create their next ad, then we’d be glad to help them make that happen. That’s one of the reasons we built AdHack.
    There’s also a great parody video of the Motrin ad created already by one of their customers:

  2. miro
    miro November 21, 2008

    I have to agree with Sean and the Motrin brand folks .
    No one deliberately sets out to insult their brand community. Once the sensitivity was identified, McNeil responded quickly and sincerely.
    “Dear Amy –
    I am the Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare. I have responsibility for the Motrin Brand, and am responding to concerns about recent advertising on our website. I am, myself, a mom of 3 daughters.
    We certainly did not mean to offend moms through our advertising. Instead, we had intended to demonstrate genuine sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their babies. We believe deeply that moms know best and we sincerely apologize for disappointing you. Please know that we take your feedback seriously and will take swift action with regard to this ad. We are in process of removing it from our website. It will take longer, unfortunately, for it to be removed from magazine print as it is currently on newstands and in distribution.
    Kathy Widmer
    VP of Marketing – Pain, Pediatrics, GI, Specialty
    McNeil Consumer Healthcare”
    The users and promoters of social media should reflect on this. Mistakes are made, will be made…things succeed and things fail. If mistakes/failures always result in eye poking rhetoric it will only serve to stymie future innovation and creativity to everyone’s detriment.

  3. Rob
    Rob November 24, 2008

    As a Dad (and therefore a male) and with no authority to provide an opinion (as I am not a Mom) and at the risk of being insensitive, politically incorrect, and otherwise a dumb@ss guy, I find the reaction from the Moms to this clip surprising. Really, it is amusing and I applaud Motrin for taking this initiative.
    Yes, I carried my son on my front, back, shoulders, between the legs (learning to skate)…and I have a bad back which prevents me from doing all sorts of things I would like to do…but I endured the pain and discomfort for the love of my son…and think the take on this aspect of parenting life by Motrin is comfortably refreshing.
    Are we not a little too intense on this subject? Let’s face it, taking every opportunity to bond with our children is important but let’s not think that if we do not carry little Johnnie close to us all the time that he will grow up emotionally scarred. Looking at life through a “humour lens” has its benefits.

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